Thursday March 27 2014

We should invest in education to achieve sustainable development

By Samuel Baligidde

In a recent article in the New Vision, Mr Robert Kabushenga was reported to have warned that “as a country, we’re dead if we do not invest in education”. I agree with him but add that the challenges being experienced at the lower levels of education have implications for university education.

A commentator who added “we’re dead if we do not invest in vocational education” was right too. Government, private educational entrepreneurs and donors should consider reviving the polytechnic concept but I wish to dwell on education as a driver of sustainable development.
There has always been a debate over the alignment between education and development. While some scholars argue that development precedes educational advancement, others have maintained that this need not be the case.

The philosophers upon whose ideas educational systems have been designed and built, defined education in accordance with their philosophy of life with the result that conflicting perspectives on education have emerged.

The Uganda Management Institute director-general and educational management expert James Nkata’s proposition that the way a society perceives and interprets the aim and nature of education determines its responses to education and subsequently the characteristics of the education system, is a valid one.

It is true, especially at the university level, that education influences societal development. Because education is dynamic, perceptions of its role in national development change whenever there are changes in its characteristics both at the lower and upper levels and in the society and environment as well as era in which it is delivered.

Education is intrinsically dialectical; it should change whenever societal needs change. Education plays a major role in national development through the provision of skills and shaping of attitudes that are designed to enhance technical and other competencies.

Oftentimes, politicians’ perceptions of the role of education in national development usually differ from those of the rest of society! They perceive education at the university level as an instrument of mobilisation for partisan political interests and since educational institutions must operate under the superstructure of government and the political environment, divergence in perceptions of the role of university education is one of the challenges university managers and leaders must deal with.

Even without taking part in partisan politics, universities generate political ideas and can influence political choice since they are the elite that are a microcosm of the electorate. Differences in perceptions are a perfect and common breeder of antagonism.

The findings of a study I carried out at Makerere University between 2004 and 2006 are quite instructive. A significant number of the respondents who included academic staff, managers, student leaders and students at the university suggested that the university should help government in drawing and implementing development plans and that this would provide the means for overcoming the alleged antagonistic relationship with government.
Regarding the steps the university could take to help the government, they suggested skewing its research and teaching programmes towards complementing the latter’s efforts; including more government representatives on its committees; restraining itself from partisan politics; promoting university-private-sector-alignment; government respecting the university’s autonomy by desisting from politicisation of university leadership as well as its community’s academic and democratic freedoms, among others.

This, they argued, would enhance mutual trust and integration of the university’s and government’s development efforts.
Universities should look at their work in terms of relevant development needs. Their managers and leaders ought to depart from the colonialist mentality of African universities that were modelled with little consideration for their location and role in creating sustainable development.

Mr Baligidde is a former diplomat